When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I first started shooting when I was 15. I was obsessed with fashion magazines then, so all of my pictures were of my friends, trying to emulate those photos I devoured in glossy magazines every month. Initially I wasn’t sure if it was the fashion or the photography that I loved so much, so I actually wound up majoring in apparel design at RISD for a semester. It wasn’t til then that I realized i had absolutely no ideas or real passion for fashion design whatsoever and promptly switched to photography. I still loved fashion photography though, even to the point of getting my first and only “real” job working in the photo department for 2 and 1/2 years at Harper’s Bazaar after graduating. I began shooting for a living directly after that, and as the years have passed, my focus and interest have turned to real people and real life.
Do you remember the first photographers whose work you loved?
Richard Billingham, Larry Sultan, Sally Mann, Jeff Wall, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus
Can you tell me about your project, Coming of Age? How did you get access to your subjects? Are you still working on the series?
I’ve been working on the coming of age series for a few years now. I’m documenting rites of passage for girls in the united states and i love it. I wish i could shoot it every single day. The project began by focusing on QuinceaÃ±eras, the elaborate Sweet 15 parties for Catholic girls of Latin American descent, these parties are as big a deal as even a wedding, and signify the transition from girl to woman in the eyes of the girls’ family and friends. They are elaborate and beautiful and I’ve probably shot at least 10 or 12 at this point! It all came about through one family, the father of which has been absolutely instrumental in hooking me up whenever he hears of a QuinceaÃ±era happening in his family and community of friends. A friend of mine knew that I had been on the hunt (fruitlessly til then) for QuinceaÃ±eras, and happened to chat with his cab driver about it, who was the brother of the father who brought it all together for me (his eldest daughter was about to have her QuinceaÃ±era, which I photographed. I recently photographed her younger sister’s QuinceaÃ±era as well)! Eventually, i realized that i wanted to shoot coming of age for the project in a larger sense, so in addition to the QuinceaÃ±eras, I’ve begun documenting other rites of passage like prom, debutante balls, Bat Mitzvahs, an evangelical purity ball (where the girls vow to remain virgins til marriage), an Apache sunrise dance ceremony (a four day ritual of dance and prayer that takes place after a girl gets her first period), homecoming, sweet 16s and many more. all of the things I’ve photographed have come up through word of mouth, dear friends asking around for me, and sometimes me posting a question on facebook or the occasional google search e.g. purity balls, Apache sunrise dance! in the fall i hope to photograph an Indian tradition called arangatram and also sorority rush. I’m still researching other celebrations and rituals that would be appropriate for this project, though i do hope to wrap up shooting within the year, at which point i plan on publishing it all in book form!
If you could go back ten years and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I think that the me of ten years ago was so busy hustling and trying to get photo jobs to pay the bills that she/I forgot to make personal work altogether for a long period of time. Of course I was always shooting little things here and there, but had no real focused project for years. It’s important to keep the lights on, of course, but also so critical to keep making work for yourself. ultimately my personal work has been so fulfilling for me and instrumental in keeping me excited about photography but has also led to jobs and other opportunities! I’ve been lucky enough to be included in the last few editions of AP and also the current PDN annual, but about half of my work that’s made it in started as personal projects. Shooting editorially, the really fun assignments that you’re proud of can be few and far between at times, so making personal work is also a way to keep your book updated and getting/keeping people excited about your photography!
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
This is tough because I feel like I’ve been really lucky! I guess my best advice is keep shooting as much as you can, obviously, but also to spread the word about your work, talk to everyone about it! So much of this current personal project has come about through friends of friends of friends. it’s been amazing. Hopefully the strength of your personal work will lead to commercial work, as it has for me.
(Rebecca is based in New York. See more of her work, here)